Show me another editor who has editorialised in favour of the Liberal Party on 7 consecutive occasions and Crikey will declare that they have replaced Herald Sun editor-in-chief Peter Blunden as Australia’s most politically biased working editor.
And whilst having the potential to exercise power is one thing, choosing to exercise it is something else altogether.
The editor-in-chief of the Herald & Weekly Times, long serving Murdoch loyalist Peter Blunden, is one such person who regularly chooses to exercise political power.
Now this would be okay if Blunden was even-handed, but an analysis of the seven election editorials in papers he’s edited over the years proves that he is fact biased in favour of the Liberal Party.
On seven separate occasions since 1993, Blunden has urged his readers to vote Liberal but he has never once recommended a vote for Labor.
Crikey worked with Blunden for 15 months and even travelled back with him from the wedding of Murdoch spindoctor Andrew Butcher in 1998.
We got on just fine but now have a fairly poisonous relationship. The trouble started when I decided to blow the whistle on Jeff Kennett after having left the paper in June 1997.
The Herald Sun was the only major Australian paper which did not editorialise on the questions raised about Kennett’s dodgy share dealings that flowed from my appearance on Four Corners in September 1997. Their support for a supposedly well-regarded former business editor was half-hearted to say the least as Blunden did not show much loyalty when the political pressure was on from Kennett.
However, relations deteriorated further when I quit my job on the Financial Review and tried to stand against Kennett in his seat of Burwood during the 1999 state election.
The Herald Sun’s coverage was appalling in the first three days so I criticised Blunden for his subservience to Kennett on www.jeffed.com and since then he has banned any mention of Jeffed of Crikey in the Herald Sun. He is without a doubt Australia’s most thin-skinned editor and prepared to abuse his power by imposing bans on people or outlets who dare to criticise him.
When 3AW’s Steve Price sued Crikey and me personally for defamation and later issued a summons for contempt of court, the Herald Sun showed no interest in exploring the issue of whether journalists should sue each other and didn’t even report it properly in its gossip columns.
The lawyer running the cases from Corrs Chambers Westgarth won a special Herald Sun prize for free speech at the Melbourne Press Club Quill awards last year and then Blunden suddenly decided to pay Steve Price an estimated $70,000 a year to write a weekly column for the Herald Sun.
Some journalists have speculated that Blunden is so obsessed with Crikey that he gave Price the well-paid column just to annoy me and help fund his heavyweight legal campaign against Crikey. This might be stretching it a bit far.
Anyway, that’s enough from me, let’s now hand over to Peter Blunden himself to prove just how blatantly politically biased he has been over the past decade by examining the seven editorials in questions.
Blunden first let loose as an editor in Adelaide
Peter Blunden took over from Piers Akerman as editor of The Adelaide Advertiser in July 1990 but he just missed the chance to editorialise strongly in favour of Andrew Peacock in the Federal election held four months earlier in March 1990. However, Piers Akerman did Blunden proud with a strong call to vote for Peacock.
But Blunden had no qualms strongly backing Dr John Hewson and Fightback in 1993. It should be pointed out that most papers backed the Coalition, although Blunden’s Adelaide Advertiser was more supportive than most.
Ten years on, time is up for Labor
By Peter Blunden
Adelaide Advertiser Editor
Published on Friday, March 12, 1993
Tomorrow, as the Prime Minister observes, all the razzamatazz finishes and it’s time to make a decision. As both Mr Keating and his opponent, Dr Hewson, agree, we are charged with making a historically important choice about the direction we will take into the next century.
It is important to pause and reflect on the past, the future, and on the past four weeks of frenetic electioneering which has served to obscure, rather than elucidate the issues. It is time for some perspective and two things stand out.
The Coalition offers a radical set of reforms calculated to energise business, boost confidence, attract new investment and chop the dead hand of government bureaucracy out of our lives.
The Government promises to deliver on economic promises it has been making since before the recession but which have failed to materialise.
The choice appears, in the end, simple enough. The Coalition deserves a chance to do what Labor has long promised but has been unable to accomplish.
Even staunch Labor supporters must have serious doubts about a government that has given Australia one million unemployed, another million wanting to work but unable to find a job, 700,000 families in which children are growing up with neither parent in the workforce, a $16 billion budget deficit that has undone the grinding hard work of fiscal responsibility that gave us a surplus only three years ago.
ALP’s record is its albatross
As well, we have a net foreign debt of $168 billion, a moribund economy in which private investment is at a standstill, record numbers of bankruptcies, and a labor market which is changing, but, far too slowly because of the death-like grip of outmoded practices such as compulsory unionism and award rigidities.
This is Labor’s legacy after 10 years in office. It is not all the Government’s fault, of course. But going into an election it would matter little whether it were a Liberal, Social Democrat or any other party asking for another three years on such a record.
It would deserve the same answer: “No, it’s time for a change.”
Mr Keating now has a terminal credibility problem based on Labor’s record and exacerbated by his own high-profile role as Treasurer during the Hawke ascendency.
His economic management since assuming the prime ministership, exemplified in the erroneous forecasting in the One Nation statement and since, does not constitute anything approaching a rehabilitation.
If it were not for the unusual, some might say foolhardy, willingness of the Coalition to offer its radical alternatives in such comprehensive detail, and to allow them to be subjected to such intense scrutiny, tomorrow’s contest would be a rout. The Government would be deservedly repudiated. Two things stand between it and such certain rejection: the Coalition’s GST and its industrial relations platform.
Despite Labor’s scare campaign, the GST is not a monster. It is an unexceptionable tax reform which has been adopted in the vast majority of industrialised countries of the world – more than 70 of them – leaving Australia, without it, in a shrinking minority.
Labor reforms too slow
The key to making it work equitably is to abolish other taxes (payroll tax, wholesale sales tax, fuel excise, customs duties, the coal export levy and the superannuation guarantee levy), as the Coalition proposes to do, and to compensate specific groups in other ways such as with personal tax cuts, which the Coalition also promises.
The net effect should be beneficial, especially to our vital export sector.
But it can only have its full effect in a seriously deregulated labor market. Like many of its reforms, Labor has started the process but has been unwilling to pursue it quickly enough and with a program unfettered by vested union influences.
The Jobsback sector of Fightback offers vastly more flexibility, abolishes compulsory unionism but provides a safety net for workers with less bargaining power. It is the single most important reform being offered by the Coalition if we are to break with the sheltered workshop mentality of the past and become really internationally competitive.
The GST and industrial relations are not the only issues but they are reforms that will underpin a general turnaround in Australia’s economic performance.
For the first seven of its 10 years, federal Labor was an energetic, reformist government.
But the cost to Australia has been immense since the onset of a recession made deeper and longer by misguided policies and faded vision.
The Coalition has shown it has a plan. Labor has not.
Australia needs a change. It’s time to give the Coalition its chance.
After failing to toss out the Keating government in 1993, Blunden turned his attention to the struggling South Australian Labor government led by Lynn Arnold with this blistering editorial on September 28, 1993, demanding that the election be called straight away.
Enough of this, let the people speak
By Peter Blunden
Adelaide Advertiser Editor Published on Tuesday, September 28, 1993.
Consider the Treasury benches of State Parliament today. There sits the former premier, resigned in every sense, forlorn and formally awaiting departure, his backbench successor impatient in the wings.
There sits his former deputy, his race run, his influence minimal, his voice almost silent.
Upfront, the Premier of the day, elected by no one save his Caucus.
Next to him a deputy and Treasurer who likewise lacks the legitimacy of election to deputy leadership at a general election. For the remainder, a pack of shuffled cards.
To this, though they squirm at the mention, must be added the unifying factor that they have in common – all of them save those outsiders called in at the last minute to prop them up – culpability for the State Bank’s gross errors of judgment.
They were there. They looked on as billions of dollars were squandered. They either agreed or they were silent. They share authorship of the appalling blunders which lumbered this community with one of the biggest bank disasters in history.
What, then, are they doing this day? In all seriousness, they apparently intend to sit around a Cabinet table and debate that they should fingernail-cling to office until next March.
The utterly spurious argument which is their latest life raft is that they would endorse fixed-term parliaments provided the fixtures begin in March or some other suitably deferred date in 1994.
As these daft dissimulations were revealed, South Australia learnt of the finding of a survey of employers, showing that investment is at a virtual standstill and that confidence has vanished.
Times are hard, anyway. But the presence of the Arnold Government, sitting in office like an extinct volcano, is the final deterrent to action.
Money will not be spent. Jobs will not be created. All that will happen is that yesterday’s people will prattle yesterday’s slogans and the day-before-yesterday’s ideas. And everyone else will sit on the sidelines, wait and hope for the best.
Then, to add the almost obligatory touch of farce to these events, the Premier features in a new advertising campaign in which he seeks to assure people that his political grouping is better at economic management than the alternative.
Managing what? Managing the investment which employers have just quantified is not happening?
Managing the jobs which don’t exist? Managing the departure across State borders of the sons and daughters of South Australians who voted for Mr Arnold’s predecessors? Managing the depressing, inexorable decline?
If Mr Arnold is truly convinced that he heads an administration which is better than that of Mr Brown’s Liberals to run SA in the latter half of the ’90s, he has no need to lavish his party’s treasure on advertising agencies and media outlets. He need only put it to the test.
He need only call the election which is due.
He need not take advantage of a constitutional quirk which will allow him, legally but without any other sanction, to grip the windowsill until next March.
The Advertiser has repeatedly urged that the State election should be called now. We would challenge the Premier to do it today, except that we know the likely response – waffle, evasion and weasel words.
Unhappily, this is no longer a tussle between the ins and the outs in State Parliament.
It is no longer even the postponement of a verdict on an administration. The very fact of the delaying of the poll, as measured in the SA Employers Federation survey reported today, itself becomes an inhibiting factor.
Collectively and individually, the Arnold Government may defer its date with the ballot box, but at such a price.
Investment is at a standstill. As individuals, they are not without honor, so we ask them: Is that really why you sought election? Are you so concerned with the small fruits of office and the little accretions to superannuation and other windfalls that you put them before the State, its people and their future? Surely not. Then why hold on?
The Arnold Government is busy with advertising campaigns and frantic announcements. But each day it gives weight to the view that it is in an electoral funk.
As a result, business and investment are on hold where they are not actually at a standstill.
The obvious counter for the Premier and those of like mind is that it is better to hang on and gather ye rosebuds while ye may than to rush to execution. But is this so? The ALP has been a force in Australian politics for a century because some people in it have always combined the longer view with immediate passions. To them The Advertiser says only: What are you gaining?
To them, to the Government and Caucus as a whole, to the Independents who keep it in office and to the Premier in person, the overdue, too-long-ignored advice is: End it.
Enough of this shilly-shallying. Enough of this ignoring the needs of the State for the pursuit of sectional and party advantage.
Let us to the polls. Let the people speak.
Now that was very strong stuff – if only Blunden was so tough against the excesses of Jeff Kennett. The State Bank of South Australia collapse was a disaster but the Liberals Blunden backed so loudly have not exactly set the world on fire.
Blunden followed up with another savage attack on Labor and ringing endorsement of the Dean Brown led opposition in the Tizer election editorial a couple of months later after the editor got his much sought after election that year.
A choice for the rest of the century
By Peter Blunden
Adelaide Advertiser Editor
Published on Friday, December 10, 1993
Tomorrow you must make a decision that will profoundly affect the future of South Australia for the remainder of this century.
The opinion polls suggest the Arnold Government will be defeated. The polls are a snapshot of collective thinking at a particular time.
But they are irrelevant to the decision an individual must make. It must rest on the parties, their policies and their leaders in the context of the times.
They are testing times. The State is deep in a national recession which has brought the misery of unemployment and business failure to hundreds of thousands of homes.
Many South Australians will leave school shortly with dismal job prospects.
Almost overshadowing the recession are the colossal blunders, headed by the State Bank, which have plunged the State into its biggest financial crisis of the 20th century.
The previous premier, Mr Bannon, did the right thing by his party and resigned. But the issue did not end with his departure.
Mr Bannon sat in a Cabinet, and cabinets rest on the doctrine of collective responsibility. Some electors will vote solely on this and penalise Labor for the debacle.
Others will accept the contention of the Premier, Mr Arnold, that the consequences have been tackled, the house has been put in order. But, even accepting that argument, the fallout from the bank and the $3.15 billion taxpayer rescue operation is the overriding feature of State politics and the State economy.
Mountain of debt
South Australia is confronted with a debt mountain. It will be $7.6 billion, on the Government’s figures, by the end of 1997. This is equivalent to handing every man, woman and child a bill for $5400.
It is a recipe for paralysis; it thrusts this small, productive, talented State into the big league of financial incompetence.
Much of the election campaign has centred on the debt-reduction strategy followed by the Arnold Government and the alternative offered by Mr Brown for the Liberals.
The Liberals say they can do more and faster – down to $6.6 billion by the end of their first term – with a combination of frugal spending and asset sales.
Their program has been challenged by Labor but has withstood scrutiny. The other public finance issue of the campaign has left Labor looking clumsy at best.
The details of a $577 million blow-out in the State debt may be technical but they have exposed either poor communications between the Premier and his Treasurer, some dubious book-keeping or a cavalier attitude to very large amounts of money.
The bank and all it implies must be a factor in any voter’s thinking tomorrow. But it is by no means the end of the story of Government ineptitude.
The State Government Insurance Commission, the woeful Scrimber timber non-investment, the vague, time-consuming, dollar-swallowing multifunction polis have all been handled with various degrees of incompetence.
Both major parties – with the Australian Democrats in a subordinate role – have presented admirably detailed programs.
Mr Arnold has promised a new $160 million business development plan. His policy speech also promised to cut the number of MPs from a total 69 to 61 and Cabinet from 13 to 10.
If returned, he would create a Family Foundation and ensure that social justice underpinned every government decision.
Program for growth
Mr Brown rested his manifesto on the creation of 12,000 jobs in the first year of a 10-year 200,000-job plan – a program which implies three terms – with an International Business Centre, WorkCover subsidies for small business and help for young farmers.
Present spending levels would be maintained and there would be voluntary voting and trade union membership.
The battle is between Liberal and Labor. But minority parties and Independents vie for attention.
Mr Blacker has run his usual solid Port Lincoln-based campaign for the Nationals and the Democrats are making another assault on the House of Assembly.
Two Independents vital to the survival of the present Government seek re-election – the active Primary Industries Minister, Mr Groom, and the present Speaker, Mr Peterson, who now has Upper House ambitions.
But South Australia has surely suffered the uncertainties of minority government for too long to be sidetracked from the need for a stable government with a working majority.
Looking at the totality of the campaigns, The Advertiser believes there is a clear, compelling choice.
Mr Arnold is a decent and hardworking politician, but he heads a Government which is not only tainted by the State Bank issue but which still seems shell-shocked by it. The Government is tired and rundown and is the author of, or accomplice to, too many failures.
Mr Brown has been tested by a rigorous campaign. He and his party have put forward a program for change and growth.
They offer the new direction South Australia so badly needs. It’s time to give them the chance.
Peter Blunden replaced Alan Oakley as editor of The Herald Sun in January 1996 and you can see the influence of less-biased editor-in-chief Steve Harris in these next two editorials but the run of Liberal support from Blunden continues uninterrupted.
Time for a change. Just
By Peter Blunden and Steve Harris
Published in the Herald Sun on Friday, March 1, 1996
The Herald Sun today concludes its three-part series on the choice facing voters tomorrow. After having examined the cases for both Labor and the Coalition, we today give our judgment.
AUSTRALIANS don’t like changing governments. We might gamble on the horses or the poker machines, but not on the men and women we choose to represent us. This is why we have voted just three federal governments out of office since Robert Menzies stepped into The Lodge in 1949.
The old wisdom was that Oppositions did not win elections – governments lost them. But the rules have changed. Oppositions now must earn the right to power and the white cars of office.
Singing “It’s time” may have worked two decades ago, but it is not enough now. If it were, Labor under Paul Keating would never have won the 1993 election after 10 years in office and a recession. The new rule is that an Opposition must answer one vital question: Yes, but are you going to do any better?
It’s a fair question, given that many of the economic problems still confronting Labor are unlikely to have been solved by any alternative government.
But on its policies, the Coalition can only respond: Well, we won’t do any worse. What else can it say after ditching some long-held convictions (on Medicare and industrial relations) and embracing new orthodoxies (the environment) to make itself almost indistinguishable from Labor?
Yesterday we argued, too, that the Coalition team did not offer any more talent than Labor. So why gamble with a change of government when Labor has governed reasonably well?
The answer lies in one fact: 13 years.
THIS is the final argument which leads this newspaper – with no great enthusiasm, with no great hopes – to support the election of a Coalition government.
This is not because Labor, on its record, particularly deserves to lose. Nor is it because the Coalition, on its promises, particularly deserves to win.
It is because to replace Labor with the Coalition will not, in our judgment, leave us appreciably worse off in terms of talent or policies. And in those circumstances, it is for the long-term good of our democracy that such a change be made after 13 years of Labor rule.
There are three principal reasons why this is so.
The first is that a healthy democracy depends upon the existence of an effective Opposition, one which stands ready as an alternative government. Without it, the party in power can do as it likes with little fear of the consequences either in parliament or at the ballot box. For a while, after the Coalition’s disastrous defeat under John Hewson in 1993, it seemed Australia risked losing any kind of viable Opposition just when the public seemed to cry out for an alternative to Labor.
The short-lived leadership of Alexander Downer was a warning how close to irrelevance the Liberal Party had come. It is to John Howard’s credit that he has given the Opposition the self-confidence and discipline to get to election day in good enough shape to merit office.
Even so, it lacks experience. Only John Howard and John Moore know what it is like to be a minister. And frustrating years out of office have not helped the Liberals to attract as many quality candidates as they would like.
This handicap can only worsen if the Coalition is again defeated. Mr Howard’s career would be over, and other frontbenchers, too, would be unlikely to stand again, leaving the Coalition even more undermanned at the next election than it is now. A spell in Opposition for Labor, on the other hand, may help it to find the energy and idealism which has inevitably drained away over its last two terms in office.
The second reason for a change is to snap the lines of patronage which inevitably trickle out from a long-lived government. Labor has been more adept than previous governments in creating client groups within our community. Fund a lobby group long enough, feed it enough privileges, and it will turn from foe to friend – or at least to an enemy of your enemies.
We have seen this happen with green groups, the arts community, unions, ethnic organisations and even selected big business leaders.
These may well argue that Labor’s policies are reason enough for their support. But pleasing opinion leaders is not the same as pleasing the public – and there are plenty of signs that many citizens feel like they are on the wrong side of a restaurant window, looking in.
In some areas, Labor’s attempts to woo special interest groups have led to poor policy. Workplace reform has been stalled to avoid offending the ACTU. The long-promised sale of ANL was aborted for the same reason. The initial excesses of the racial hatred legislation were a sop to ethnic representatives.
A Coalition government may well be as ruthless in playing lobby politics. It is a temptation for any government. But at least breaking the old bonds, favoring a new inner circle, will spread government patronage more widely. New talent will be allowed to emerge. An alternative culture will be encouraged to rival the stifling orthodoxy bred under Labor. Fresh voices will be heard.
And freshness is our final argument for change. This country still faces great challenges, not least in unemployment, workplace reform and foreign debt. In these areas in particular it makes sense to try something new, to let fresh minds work at solutions.
SO it is depressing to find the Coalition so determined to promise little that is fresh. We must be grateful for the scraps – such as its welcome commitment to treat Parliament with the dignity gradually being denied it by Labor. Otherwise, we must hope that the Coalition in government will deliver more – much more – than it says now.
This is why we cannot be enthusiastic about our choice. All we can say is that a vote for the Coalition is unlikely to do Australia any long-term harm, but should do our democracy some good. We wish we could be more positive. Time will tell whether we should have been.
Jeff Kennett got a far stronger endorsement from Blunden and Harris just four weeks later which even included Liberal Party slogans such as “The Guilty Party” and “Victoria on the Move”.
No time to turn back
By Peter Blunden and Steve Harris
Published in The Herald Sun, Friday, March 29, 1996
VICTORIA’S choice tomorrow, put simply, is between a government with a proven track record and an opposition still handicapped by a past it is not being allowed to forget.
Governments are generally beaten because they have run out of steam in the face of a real alternative. But there is no sign of tiredness in the Kennett Government and there is no credible alternative.
Jeff Kennett leads a united team which has used its massive mandate to demonstrate competent fiscal management, entrepreneurial vision and an unshakeable commitment to results.
During the campaign, fresh ideas have been evidence of energy. The few weary ministers will be retiring.
The Kennett achievements have restored confidence and generated excitement. The psychological and economic health of the State is demonstrably better. The pall of gloom has been lifted. Hope has replaced hopelessness, competition has replaced complacency, ideas have replaced ideology, results have replaced rhetoric.
When Jeff Kennett swept to power in 1992, Victoria was a national joke. Our debt was a staggering $32 billion – now down to $20 billion.
In 1992 the current account was heading for $3 billion deficit; today it is more than $1 billion in surplus – not including several billion dollars from asset sales.
The transformation has come at some cost. But opinion polls suggest voters take the view that when it comes to competent management of the state’s affairs, you get what you pay for.
The polls and the lack of passionate interest in the campaign suggest voters have already made up their minds. They are more interested in leadership, in ends rather than means.
Most importantly, Victorians want results for majorities, not vested minority interests. They want their state to put the bad days well behind so there is a real future for their children.
For John Brumby, the same opinion polls highlight the unfortunate reality that Labor has yet to establish itself as fit to be entrusted with government.
The Opposition Leader has wavered between acknowledging the likelihood of defeat to insisting he can win. He does not concede that he may have erred in believing that privatisation, health and the casino culture loomed large as vote-changing issues. But he acknowledges that a majority of voters probably want Labor to do more penance for the Cain/Kirner decade.
This is hardly surprising given the fact that still in its ranks are remnants of “The Guilty Party”, including David White, Tony Sheehan and Peter Batchelor.
But the Brumby shadow Cabinet also contains new faces risen from the ashes of the 1992 holocaust. The undoubted talent they represent must be encouraged, but they have little experience and should benefit from another term in opposition.
Despite Paul Keating’s claim that the federal poll was about leadership, it was dominated by pork-barrelling. Thankfully and appropriately this has not been a feature of the Victorian campaign.
To the extent that leadership is an issue tomorrow, the choice could not be more disparate. Jeff Kennett’s positives have been his genuine commitment to a vision for a prosperous Victoria and his unwavering pursuit of policies he believes will achieve that end. After four years in power he is rightly recognised as the nation’s most accomplished contemporary political leader.
But at times his enthusiasm has blinded him to the risks of remaining at arm’s length from business interests to whom he has the power to grant great boons. The ineptly-handled casino tender process and its fallout have the potential to embarrass gravely both the Premier and his Government.
Other Jeff Kennett negatives include his tendency to govern with an overweening paternalism. There have also been his perceived failure to consult, his impatience with due process and his sensitivity to criticism.
But there are signs that the Government grasps the need, next time round, to be less abrasive, even at the risk of dullness. It must be seen to appease those who have paid a high price for its necessarily tough agenda.
Though John Brumby has lifted his profile during the campaign, he remains a lacklustre leader with a near-impossible task.
Mr Brumby campaigned energetically, but he has been seen to place more emphasis on what he would undo rather than what he would do. He projects an image of destructive negativism which at times has overshadowed positives in his policies.
Nowhere was this more apparent than in his opposition to the Grand Prix at Albert Park, a stance totally out of kilter with majority community sentiment. Following the overwhelming public acclaim for this event, he now seeks to minimise the damage by abandoning plans to move the race elsewhere.
Other promises Mr Brumby has made that would turn back the clock include undoing the massive City Link contract, tampering with Tabcorp’s monopoly, and forcing overseas companies to reduce their majority holdings in electricity utilities to a minority share. There is no estimate for the cost of legal challenges.
Mr Brumby would also undo the Government’s industrial reforms which sent Victorian workers scurrying for the protection of Paul Keating’s federal umbrella.
Given that Victoria so manifestly convicted Labor of crimes against the State and invested such faith in the Kennett `fixit’ agenda, Labor’s tactics represented a huge psychological challenge for voters after just one term.
It is too early to let “the Guilty Party” out of jail, though they are showing welcome signs that they recognise they deserved punishment and rehabilitation. They have demonstrated a new found awareness of economic realities.
The lesson Labor must learn from the Government’s persistently good standing in the opinion polls is the high regard voters have for strong, competent leadership.
Jeff Kennett has demonstrated these qualities. Under his leadership we have made considerable progress on the road back to prosperity. But the still massive debt demonstrates there is still a long way to go. It is too early to take the foot off the rebuilding accelerator.
Victorians tomorrow cannot afford to look back. They must endorse the Kennett team’s efforts to keep Victoria on the move.
By the time the 1998 Federal election came around Peter Blunden ruled the roost on his own at the Herald Sun without the moderating influence of Steve Harris who joined The Age as publisher and editor in chief in mid-1997. The first version was even more gushing than this and Daily Telegraph editor Col Allan rang Blunden and told him it was appallingly sycophantic. Blunden refused to speak to Col for a few weeks after that but he did tone down the final version when was published. Here it is:
In search of leadership
By Peter Blunden
Herald Sun Editor
Published Friday, October 2, 1998
VOTERS tomorrow will decide who is to lead Australia into the new millennium. This is an epochal choice: towards and beyond 2000, the world’s economic problems pose a formidable challenge to the nation’s prosperity.
Our verdict should be delivered with this volatile environment in mind. Neither the coalition nor the ALP offer an outstanding choice, reflected by the large blocks of undecided votes in opinion polls.
The public is disenchanted with both sides and their lack of genuine leadership and vision. Australia has had a less than brilliant 21/2 years under John Howard.
There have been important positives, most significantly the coalition’s success in turning Labor’s $10.3 billion deficit into a $2.7 billion surplus for 1998-99.
The government has also tamed inflation and interest rates, although its job-creating ability has only marginally outperformed the previous Labor administration.
But its generally sound economic management has contributed to Australia withstanding the Asian crisis for so long.
The government justifiably points to its successes as reinforcing its credentials as the nation’s preferred economic manager.
Even in the field of waterfront reform, though hamfisted in its interventionist role, real savings were ultimately achieved on the wharves.
The Wik package also represents progress in the minefield of reconciliation.
But apart from his decisive response to the Port Arthur tragedy, Mr Howard’s personal performance has been a disappointment, characterised by a surfeit of inaction and indecision.
This unimpressive performance leaves him open to the charge that his radical but commendable tax reform package is a belated and risky attempt to re-establish his authority.
For all that, the tax blueprint is a bold and comprehensive policy with the potential to address a seriously flawed tax system so cynically exploited by the black economy.
The tax package is a positive attempt to restore fairness and incentive and to lower the imposts on business that inhibit jobs growth.
It will radically alter the way the states are financed, eliminate many unpopular state charges and end the annual begging pilgrimage to Canberra by premiers.
The alternative choice tomorrow is the ALP, a party that had so many opportunities during its 13 years in power yet failed, largely because it was (and remains today) in the thrall of the union movement.
Kim Beazley has performed well during the campaign. But instead of producing credible policies and a real vision, Mr Beazley has relied on demonising the GST in the hope of repeating the ALP’s 1993 success over John Hewson.
In reality, the substance of what Mr Beazley is offering is a return to a less-than-glorious past in which he was an undistinguished player. The GST is not the evil he claims.
The real substance of his “plan for Australia” is a commitment to the ghosts of the 1950s class war. Labor offers no radical tax reform. Even the cuts it promises to low and middle-income earners may be illusory: those with unearned income of more than $5000 will be excluded from Labor’s tax cuts – even those with one rental property.
This would be a blow to self-funded retirees – who are to receive incentives from the coalition.
The coalition offers incentives to people to stay in the bleeding private health insurance funds, while Labor pledges a return to its philosophical commitment to Medicare. This ignores the reality that the public system is already groaning under the weight of private health defectors.
Long-term, the coalition’s weapon to fight chronically high unemployment is its belief in the ability of a GST tax reform, and associated measures such as unfair dismissal laws and industrial reform, to create jobs.
Unwilling to bite the tax reform bullet, Labor promises to reduce unemployment to 5 per cent in six years by throwing taxpayers’ money at the problem. No one seriously believes this target can be met.
The wild card in this election is Pauline Hanson’s One Nation. This inarticulate populist who has divided the nation owes her support to voters’ disaffection with the major parties.
But a large vote for her tomorrow would be a vote against Australia – as seen from beyond our shores. On balance it is clear that the future stability of the nation depends on voters giving the coalition another term.
To change horses would send a wrong message, because it would represent a destabilising change of economic direction when we can least afford it.
This would also represent a rejection of reform that has the potential to strengthen the nation’s ability to compete in world markets.
Should the coalition triumph tomorrow, John Howard has a fresh opportunity to display true leadership qualities.
Should he fail, a successor with genuine leadership qualities must be sought to chart the nation’s course through the rough seas ahead.
Mr Howard is decent and honest, but he is uncharismatic and uninspiring Throughout his career he has suffered from a chronic inability to lead.
Our national leaders need a crash course in the brand of strong leadership displayed by Premier Jeff Kennett – a reluctant Canberra contender but a powerful political force beyond our borders.
The Liberal Party is not short of candidates for the top job. Victorians Peter Costello and Peter Reith have the potential to offer positive leadership – not only to the party but to a nation in urgent need of it.
As you can see from that one, Blunden had really fallen for Kennett so his unqualified endorsement of the boofhead at the 1999 state election came as no surprise.
Jeff’s runs on the board
By Peter Blunden
Herald Sun Editor
Published Friday, September 17, 1999
“It would not be in Victoria’s interests to vote for change tomorrow. This election is still there to be won or lost.” – Jeff Kennett ” The reality is that the message is working well.” – Steve Bracks.
THE mercifully brief Jeff and Steve show ends tomorrow when Victorians decide who should take centre stage for the next four years.
In a lacklustre campaign, both leaders focused on the perceived weaknesses of the other and pork-barrelled relentlessly.
The coalition sought to portray Steve Bracks as negative – lacking competence, experience and vision, and haunted by the ghosts of the Cain-Kirner years.
The Labor leader has been growing into the job. No doubt this was a factor that persuaded the Premier to call an election a year earlier than he had to – at a cost to taxpayers of $15 million.
Labor focused largely on Jeff Kennett’s autocratic, secretive style of leadership. But it is his can-do decisiveness that has turned around Victoria’s fortunes by dramatically reducing the state’s debt.
However, it is one thing to provide positive, visionary leadership. It is entirely another to be too much of a one-man band.
This view of Jeff Kennett among voters is shared by members of his own party – particularly those he gagged during the campaign.
It was his biggest mistake: there is no excuse for gagging MPs to inhibit media coverage of an election campaign – it is unheard of in a democracy.
The Premier’s attempt to justify his action by arguing he had done it in the lead-up to previous elections was no excuse at all.
In pursuit of votes, each side has unashamedly topped up the pork barrel to overflowing. A rough calculation puts Labor’s blandishments at around $2.5 billion.
The government, which has presided over seven years of necessary austerity, has suddenly found more than $3 billion with which to woo the electorate.
Both the coalition and Labor have identified areas of genuine community concern: our overloaded health and education systems, planning, and law and order are among those that have won big-spending promises.
Both sides pledge to cut waiting lists for hospitals, but the coalition’s patch-up measures are unlikely to alleviate voters’ concerns. Labor’s promise to keep hospitals in public hands is directly at odds with the Kennett government’s policy.
The government outraged the education unions, which had been running the school system during the Cain-Kirner years, when it cut staff and closed schools.
Today, education remains a vexing issue. The government promises 600 extra teachers, 35 new state schools, $136 million for school repairs, and other measures designed to assuage community discontent.
Labor promises 650 extra teachers, costing about $35 million, and a cap on class sizes, with no more than 21 pupils per class in the first three years of primary school.
Planning is also a grassroots issue. The government, until now, has ignored widespread community anger over the impact of its laissez faire approach to development, personified by Planning Minister Rob Maclellan. Much of the anger has come from the coalition’s own constituency.
The government says it will return power to local councils and residents, in a belated but welcome recognition that this issue is a significant sleeper with the potential to cost it votes across the metropolitan area.
Labor seeks to match it by promising local councils and residents more of a say, with renewed controls over what can be built in residential areas and the disappearance of ministerial intervention, except in rare cases.
Both sides have belatedly recognised that Victoria is not just Melbourne. The leaders’ frenetic whistle-stop tours of the bush are desperate attempts to demonstrate that they know not only which side their bread is buttered on, but also where the bread and butter comes from.
Steve Bracks has worked hard and has run a reasonable campaign. But despite this, he continues to suffer from a negativity which is a chronic malady of Labor leaders.
He looks backward (for example, his populist promise to restore tram conductors) instead of projecting his own vision for the new millennium.
But he deserves praise for subjecting Labor’s policies to an independent audit – a recognition that his single biggest challenge is that the people do not trust Labor with economic management.
Conversely, the evidence is there of the Kennett team’s economic credentials. Confidence in Victoria is at its highest point in living memory.
There are visible signs of this in the Docklands development, CityLink, Federation Square, and the new Museum of Victoria. These tangible things are reinforced by a calendar of major events which regularly put Melbourne on the international map.
This progress is due not just to an energetic Premier, but also to his Treasurer, Alan Stockdale, and to others who are leaving Cabinet.
But the government cannot rest on its laurels.
Mr Kennett must recognise the dangers of excessive secrecy – particularly the use of the cloak of commercial confidentiality to deny the public’s right to know.
He must not resist legitimate scrutiny, as practised by a properly empowered auditor-general.
Labor is better placed to keep the heat on in opposition than it has been for years. This is good for democracy. In four years, it could be Steve Bracks’ turn.
But this time the government has the runs on the board. Jeff Kennett has fought hard for the state on the national stage.
It would not be in Victoria’s interests to vote for change tomorrow.
This next effort was the worst thing Blunden has ever done when it comes to political bias and he is on the record with Andrew Dodd in The Australian conceding that it was a mistake.
This is the relevant extract from Dodd’s article a couple of months back:
“Later, after the Kennett government was rejected at the polls and the state was forced to wait for three independent MPs to determine who would form government, the Herald Sun continued to back Kennett. On the day the independents were due to cast their votes the paper published a page one editorial calling on the three MPs to back the Coalition. It said: “The Herald Sun believes now is not the time to change government.”
Blunden now admits he got the editorial wrong. “I take responsibility for that … We said we thought you ought to go this way, they went the other way, and I guess on a point of loyalty we stuck with the side that we backed in the election.”
So, let’s check out the page one editorial that Blunden now says was a mistake:
By Peter Blunden
Herald Sun editor
Published on page 1, Monday, 18 October 1999
THREE people today hold the political fate of Victoria in their hands.
Independent MPs Craig Ingram, Susan Davies and Russell Savage owe it to all Victorians to use their power wisely.
They must cast aside personal agendas and grievances and put the state’s best interests first. The Herald Sun believes now is not the time to change government.
Jeff Kennett has learned his lessons the tough way. He took rural Victoria for granted and paid the price. His arrogant leadership style went too far.
But for all his mistakes, he delivered Victoria from the depths of despair to the vibrant, go-ahead state of today.
Labor’s victory in Frankston East must be respected, but this was NOT a referendum on the state. Local issues were paramount.
Importantly, the incumbent coalition still holds 43 seats to Labor’s 42. Despite the huge swings, the will of the people still marginally rests with the conservatives.
Steve Bracks deserves credit for his performance so far, and he may yet get his chance. But for now, the independents must refrain from settling personal scores and help maintain Victoria’s momentum.
Finally, let’s check out the weak editorial supporting the concept of Howard getting a third term. The contrast with the extraordinary attacks on the South Australian Labor Government in 1993 are stark indeed. And there is no admonishment of John Howard for running a desperate fear campaign based on race and xenophobia.
Not a time to change
By Peter Blunden
Herald Sun Editor-in-Chief
Published November 9, 2001
AUSTRALIANS will breath a collective sigh of relief on this, the last day of a long and uninspiring federal election campaign.
Tomorrow, they will administer the coup de grace to John Howard or Kim Beazley in a close contest. The lacklustre showing of both failed to present a clear choice in terms of charismatic and visionary leadership.
The Prime Minister began by relying on the status quo while invoking the twin external threats from Osama bin Laden and illegal immigrants. Polling showed that on both issues he was on winners.
The Prime Minister was helped by the Opposition Leader’s early vacillation on the boat people. Mr Howard scored again when differences emerged between Mr Beazley and his spokesman on foreign affairs, Laurie Brereton.
But Mr Beazley, in what was euphemistically hyped as the “great debate”, managed to swing the campaign on to domestic issues. Thus this otherwise boring television event became a turning point. By splashing money around and through clever politicking based on good advice, Mr Beazley turned the campaign into a genuine contest.
MR HOWARD claims that his promises, costed at $2.5 billion over four years with further spending into the fifth year, accord with the good management that has the economy well-placed to weather a world recession.
Superficially in the campaign, Labor has outperformed the Government. But one of Mr Beazley’s weaknesses lies in his failure yet to explain convincingly how he can fund his $5 billion in promises over four years, also with further spending into the fifth year.
He has failed to reassure voters an ALP Government can fund this without eroding the Budget surplus if, as seems likely, the world economy continues to unravel.
Labor is also in difficulty reconciling its decision to rule out a replacement for the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor with the ALP’s $3 billion commitment to a “Knowledge Nation”. The Lucas Heights pledge is an expedient bid for Green preferences.
Nor has ALP credibility been enhanced by its deliberately last-minute delivery of the figures to the Treasury for assessment under the Charter of Budget Honesty. But both Government and Opposition have been tricky: some of their spending extends into the fifth year. Surpluses are projected only over four.
Mr Beazley has rightly focused on health and education as key issues. In response to opinion polls showing major public concern over the state of the nation’s public health system, the ALP has pledged more than $1 billion — more than half of it for public hospitals.
In education, Labor has out-promised the Government, pledging $3 billion for its “Knowledge Nation”. But it has resurrected the Left’s class-based bias by cancelling funding increases for so-called “rich” private schools. This will save a mere $135 million over five years.
The ALP has raised the bogy of an increase in the GST under a Howard Government, but Mr Beazley’s promised GST “roll back” is no more than tokenism. The tininess of his promised 3 per cent cut is not surprising, given that the states and territories will benefit hugely from the GST. All bar South Australia are in Labor hands.
Mr Howard bravely took the big political risk involved in tax reform, though implementation of the GST was ham-fisted in its early bureaucratic impact on small businesses.
But on the most fundamental of all tax reforms — elimination of bracket creep — Coalition and Opposition have a de facto bipartisan policy of ducking the issue.
The Howard Government has managed the economy competently. It is in good shape, with inflation and interest rates both low.
For this, Mr Howard’s No. 2, Treasurer Peter Costello, must take much of the credit. He is both a clever operator and has the sort of toughness required of a leader.
John Howard has diminished his personal appeal by repeatedly dodging the question of his retirement. But if he goes during the next term, Peter Costello would be well qualified as his successor.
A Beazley government would differ markedly from the Hawke and Keating governments, whose strong leaders resisted pressure.
The ALP owes the union movement. A significant number of Mr Beazley’s front-benchers are former union officials, including two former ACTU presidents, Simon Crean and Martin Ferguson.
A BEAZLEY Government presents policies which would undo much of the good from the Howard Government’s economic management and industrial reforms (begun by Paul Keating).
At risk is the Australian Workplace Agreements legislation and secondary boycotts laws. A Beazley Government would also persist with the unfair dismissal laws — a millstone on small businesses.
Given the volatility of the world today, the Herald Sun believes this is not the time to change government.
So there you have it. Blunden has backed the Coalition in South Australia in 1993, Victoria in 1996 and 1999 and Federally in 1993, 1996, 1998 and 2001.
That’s an impressive record of 7-0 in favour of the Liberals which I would submit constitutes a degree of bias. Being a Liberal, I would have supported his stand in most of these accept for the third Kennett term and the third Howard term. But the tone of the editorials also point to the bias as he is prepared to savage Labor but rarely attacks the Libs with anything more than a damp lettuce leaf.
Now, if you’ve got this far, you may as well plough on and read the full Andrew Dodd profile of Blunden published in The Australia’s Media section a few months back.
Blunden to be Sunday driver
By Andrew Dodd
Published in The Australian on Masy 17, 2001
IT’S a funny thing, the way Peter Blunden blows hot and cold. Three weeks ago, the editor of The Herald Sun was telling Media he wouldn’t be talking to The Australian newspaper because he didn’t like the way this paper covered his own. He fumed over the phone alleging all sorts of heinous things and declared “it’s war, you can quote me, I’m not talking to The Australian.”
Last week Blunden was pleasant and mild mannered, talking to Media about his appointment as editor-in-chief of the Herald and Weekly Times. No one had declared an armistice between the two News Limited newspapers. Blunden had simply opted to forget he’d declared war in the first place.
Those who know Blunden say this is typical. Colleagues say his frequent outbursts are “confected, not a core part of his personality and out of place”.
“Deep down,” says one, “he’s actually quite decent.”
Blunden’s appointment to the helm of the Herald and Weekly Times puts him in overall control of the Herald Sun (which he has edited for the past five years and will continue to do so) as well as the Sunday Herald Sun, the Victorian rural paper, The Weekly Times and the new commuter giveaway, MX.
His appointment comes after weeks of intense rumour-mongering at News Limited. The speculation among staff has been raging since News Limited deputy chief operating officer Lachlan Murdoch’s visit to Australia two months ago. According to the rumours, Blunden was to move to Sydney to take up a senior editorial role and thereby trigger a domino effect of senior editors moving upwards and sideways, ending with the editor-in-chief of The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph, Col Allan, jetting off to become editor-in-chief of the New York Post.
The Allan bit was right. He caught a plane to the Big Apple three weeks ago. The other changes happened, too, when editor Campbell Reid left The Australian for The Daily Telegraph and Michael Stutchbury was appointed editor of The Australian (see story on opposite page). About the only part of the rumour that didn’t eventuate was Blunden’s move north.
The reason? Blunden says that during discussions with News Limited CEO, John Hartigan, he told his boss he didn’t want to move to Sydney.
“Sydney was my home town but I haven’t lived there for 11 years. I have a daughter in university here and a son who is still at school. I’ve packed up and moved six or seven times for the company over the last 25 years and I’ve probably got to a point where I indicated that I would like to be in Melbourne for the forseeable future.”
It appears that a big part of Blunden’s role will be focused on the Sunday Herald Sun. Changes have been inevitable at the paper since a recent meeting at which a highly critical Lachlan Murdoch reportedly pulled the paper apart, page by page in front of the editor, Alan Howe, and senior staff. Murdoch was apparently unhappy that the Sunday paper hasn’t yet achieved a circulation of 600,000.
One of Blunden’s first moves, two days after his appointment, was to bring in some new blood. Phil Gardner, editor of MX, has been made deputy editor of the Sunday Herald Sun. With Blunden above and Gardner below, life could become a little uncomfortable for Howe.
But Blunden stresses the changes will not affect Howe’s role as editor. Both Howe and Blunden have been loyal News Limited employees for more than 20 years and share a good friendship. Blunden says this won’t be strained, even though he may have to implement big changes to the paper Howe has edited for the past eight years.
“I think one or two of the changes I’m making are significant,” says Blunden. “Alan is very supportive of what has happened, he really is. I’ve worked with Alan for 20 years, but look, we have a job to do and we’ll work on it professionally and do whatever needs to be done, and keep personal relationships to other times. We’ve just got to work as a team, and Alan is a team player and we’ll work well together.”
Blunden is coy about other changes to the Sunday tabloid. He says the Sunday Herald Sun has always been a big priority. “I wasn’t part of that meeting [with Murdoch and Howe] but I think you can take it from this appointment that, how should I put it, that they asked for my involvement as well as Alan’s in putting [the Sunday Herald Sun] together … The paper’s figures are very strong, they’re going in the right direction but we want to accelerate that even further.”
One senior Herald Sun reporter told Media the changes to the Sunday paper would need to be fairly major. “It’s too blood and guts, it needs to be lightened up, the first seven pages are stories about death knocks, grieving parents and plane crashes, and the layout is fairly ordinary.”
Many colleagues speak highly of Blunden’s editing ability. One reporter told Media he hoped his promotion wouldn’t take him away from his hands-on role at the Herald Sun because he valued his editing ability. Blunden is praised for his news sense and ability to translate ideas into engaging stories.
Matthew Ricketson, head of journalism at RMIT University, says, “Blunden has great instincts as an editor of a tabloid newspaper, in terms of broad coverage and sharp coverage of the news, and often with quite a lot of flair in front page layouts and headlines and so on. Where I think his reputation as an editor is more vulnerable, is the way he seemed to be too close to the Kennett government — too quick to praise them and too slow to criticise them.”
This criticism is shared by maverick internet journalist Stephen Mayne, who worked with Blunden as a business reporter at the Herald Sun. He believes Blunden has a “natural leaning to the Liberals”, and points to an article in the lead-up to the 1999 Victorian state election in which Blunden and former state political reporter Damon Johnston interviewed the then premier, Jeff Kennett.
The interview was described in the paper as “putting the hard questions” but is now legendary among Melbourne journalists as a low point during the campaign. The hard questions included: “Are Victorian football fans being well looked after?” “Why are you popular with young people?” “Would you like to spend more time with your family?” and “How does your day unfold?”
Later, after the Kennett government was rejected at the polls and the state was forced to wait for three independent MPs to determine who would form government, the Herald Sun continued to back Kennett. On the day the independents were due to cast their votes the paper published a page one editorial calling on the three MPs to back the Coalition. It said: “The Herald Sun believes now is not the time to change government.”
Blunden now admits he got the editorial wrong. “I take responsibility for that … We said we thought you ought to go this way, they went the other way, and I guess on a point of loyalty we stuck with the side that we backed in the election.”
In general Blunden denies the paper has been too close to the Coalition under his editorship and in his defence cites another front-page story during the election campaign. The page one story was headlined “Silenced” and featured several Coalition MPs gagged from public comment by Kennett. It was a turning point in the election.
“It was my idea to do the page, it was my idea to do the story. And I think that if I was as close to Jeff Kennett, and on his side, as people might say then I don’t think that that front page would have appeared because I knew that it would be damaging when it happened. But I did it because I thought it was a good story.”
Another aspect of Blunden’s complex character is his reluctance to forgive those he considers have done the wrong thing by News Limited. Mayne says Blunden is “tribally loyal to the company”. There are examples of staff who’ve faced Blunden’s ire after announcing they’re leaving the paper. Perhaps the most famous case is Mary-Anne Toy, who announced she was leaving the Herald Sun for a job at The Age the week she returned from an overseas posting.
Blunden concedes, “I haven’t reacted well when I think there are people that we’ve done the right thing by, and encouraged and looked after, who suddenly depart to a rival company. I plead guilty to having reacted poorly when, for instance we’ve given a person an overseas posting and on the week that they’re due to return have gone literally from a plum overseas job straight to the opposition … I do believe in loyalty, I do believe there is something that you have to pay back. It’s not a contract for life, but I do react poorly in that respect.”
Apart from fixing up the Sunday Herald Sun, Blunden will need to steer the new commuter giveaway paper MX. The afternoon paper was launched in early February to compete with a similar morning paper called Express, launched by Fairfax on the same day. Both News Limited and Fairfax worry the papers will rob their major mastheads of readers and that the commuter papers will take too long to become profitable.
Blunden says: “It is a new phenomenon so it does take a while to bed down and for people to get used to it … Creating a new business out of something with no cover price and having to build a new advertiser base is a challenge, but it’s going very well for the stage that it’s at. The challenge is to sustain that and the daily Herald Sun, and make them both grow.”
According to one Herald Sun journalist, Blunden’s greatest asset is that he “reflects the paper’s readership. His attitudes are the same as the people who read the paper each day.” Blunden agrees with this. “I came from a middle-class, working-class sort of background in the south-western suburbs of Sydney. My father was a policeman, my mother was a nurse. I guess in many ways I started at the bottom of journalism and worked my way through the grades. I’d like to think that we can pick the way our readers are going. I think it’s really important for a paper not to misjudge where most of its readers’ minds are on subjects that are important to them, and staying in touch and picking the stories that are really relevant to their lives is the key to it.”
1976: Cadetship, News Limited, Sydney
1980: Adelaide correspondent, The Australian
1982: Reporter, The Australian
1984-85: Canberra bureau, The Australian
1985: Chief of staff, The Australian
1987: Assistant editor, The Australian
1988: Founding editor, The Australian Magazine
July 1990: Editor, The Advertiser, Adelaide
January 1996: Editor, the Herald Sun
May 2001: Editor-in-chief, The Herald and Weekly Times